Fanny Brawne’s Seventh Letter to Fanny Keats

Before he parted from Fanny Brawne and left Wentworth Place, Keats asked her to write to his sister, Fanny Keats. They began a correspondence of 31 letters over a four-year period.  

This is Fanny Brawne’s seventh letter, written on 26 February 1821. With her letter, Fanny included a letter written to her mother on 11 January 1821 from Joseph Severn, who was with Keats in Italy.  

This extract is read by Darcy Keeble Watson, for the #Keats200 bicentenary programme.

Monday Morn 26 Feb 1821

My dear Fanny

  I enclose you the letter I promised you but I cannot send with it any news that would give you pleasure. A letter has been received, which I have not seen dated the 25th he was not worse but he was not better, and faint as are the hopes Mr Severn gives I dare not think them well founded. All I do is to persuade myself, I shall never see him again – but I will not say any more perhaps it may afford you more comfort to hope for the best. God bless you my dearest girl in a week or a fortnight I will write to you again unless I hear from Italy, should that be the case you shall be immediately informed of it.

Yours very affectionately

Frances Brawne

Postmark: 26 Feb. 1821. 2 o’clock.
Address: Miss Keats / at Mr. Abby’s / Pancras Lane

Below is a transcript of the letter included with Fanny Brawne’s letter – ‘the letter I promised you.’ This is held at the British Library – more information can be found here.

Rome Jan. 11. 1821.
1 o’Clock morning

My dear Madam

  I said that “the first good news I had should be for the kind Mrs Brawn.” I am thankful & delighted to make good my promise – to be at all able to do it – for among all the horrors hovering over poor Keats this was the most dreadful that I could see no possible way and but a fallacious hope for his recovery. But now thank God I have a real one. I most certainly think I shall bring him back to England – at least my anxiety for his recovery and comfort make me think this – for half the cause of his danger has arisen from the loss of England – from the dread of never seeing it more. O this hung upon him like a torture – never may I behold the like again even in my direst enemy – Little did I think what a task of affliction & danger I had undertaken – for I only thought of the beautiful mind of Keats, my attachment to him – and his convalescence.

  But I will tell you dear Madam the singular reason I have for hoping his recovery – In the first fortnight of this attack his memory presented to him every thing that was dear & delightful – even to the minutiae – and with it all the persecution & I may say villainy practised upon him – his exquisite sensibility for every one save his poor self – all his own means & comfort expended upon others – almost in vain – These he would contrast with his present suffering – and say that all was brought on by them – and he was right. Now he has changed to calmness & quietude, as singular as productive of good, for his mind was certainly killing him. He has now given up all thoughts hopes or even wish for recovery – his mind is in a state of peace from the final leave he has taken of this world and all its future hopes. this has been an immense weight for him to rise from. He remains quiet & submissive under his heavy fate.

  Now if any thing will recover him it is this absence of himself. I have perceived for the last 3 days symptoms of recovery – Dr Clarke even thinks so – Nature again revives in him – I mean where art was used before – Yesterday he permitted me to carry him from his bed room to our sitting room – to put him clean things on, and to talk about my Painting to him – This is my good news – Don’t think it otherwise my dear Madam, for I have been in such a state of anxiety & discomfiture in this barbarous place that the least hope of my friends recovery is a heaven to me.

  For Three weeks I have never left him – I have sat up at night – I have read to him nearly all day & even in the night – I light the fire, make his breakfast & sometimes am obliged to cook – make his bed and even sweep the room. I can have these things done, but never at the time when they ought & must be done – so that you will see my alternative – What enrages me most is making a fire I blow – blow – for an hour – the smoke comes fuming out – my kettle falls over on the burning sticks – no stove – Keats calling me to be with him – the fire catching my hands & the door bell ringing – all these to one quite unused and not all capable – with the want of every proper material come not a little galling –

  But to my great surprise I am not ill, or even restless nor have I been all the time – there is nothing but what I will do for him – there is no alternative but what I think and provide myself against – except his death – not the loss of him – I am not prepared to bear that – but the inhumanity the barbarism of these Italians. So far I have kept every thing from poor Keats, but if he did know but part of what I suffer for them and their cursed laws it would kill him – just to instance one thing among many. News was brought me the other day that our gentle landlady had reported to the Police that my friend was dying of consumption – Now their law is that every individual thing in each room the patient has been in shall without reserve even to the paper on the walls be destroyed by fire – This startled me not a little, for in our sitting room where I wanted to bring him there is property worth about 150£ besides all our own books &c invaluable – now my difficulty was to shift him to this room and let no one know it – this was a heavy task from the unfortunate manner of the place – our landladys apartments are on the same floor with ours – her servant waits on me when it pleases her and enters from an adjoining room – I was determined on removing Keats let what would be the consequence – the change was {most} essential to his health & spirits – and the following morning I set about accomplishing it. In the first place I blocked up the door so that they could not enter – then made up a bed on the Sofa & removed my friend to it. the greatest difficulty was in keeping all from him – I succeeded in this too by making his bed and sweeping the room where it is – and going dinnerless with all the pretensions of dining – persuading him that the Servant had made his bed, & I had been dining – he half suspected this but as he could not tell the why & the wherefore there it ended. I got him back in the afternoon & no one save Dr Clark knew of it.

  Dr C. still attends him with his usual kindness, and shews his good heart in every thing he does – the like of his lady – I cannot tell which shews us the most kindness – I am even a mark of their care – mince pies and numberless nice things come over to keep me alive – and but for their kindness I am afraid we should go on very gloomily. Now my dear Madam I must leave off – my eyes are beginning to be unruly, and I must write a most important letter to our President Sir Thos Lawrence before I suffer myself to sleep  

  Will you be so good kind as to write Mr Taylor that it was at Mess.rs Torlonias Advice Mr Keats drew a Bill for the whole Sum £120 this was to save the trouble & expense of many small bills – he now draws in small sums. I have the whole of affairs under charge and am trying the nearest possible way. Mr Taylor will hear from Dr C about the bill – it will be well arranged – present my respectful Compts to Miss B. who I hope & trust is quite well – now that I think of her my mind is carried to your happy Wentworth Place – O I would my unfortunate friend had never left it – for the hopeless disadvantage of this comfortless Italy – he has many many times talked over the few happy days at your House the only time when his mind was at ease. I hope still to see him with you again farewell my dear Madam – One more thing I must say – poor Keats cannot see any letters – at least he will not – they affect him so much and increase his danger – The two last I repented giving – he made me put them into his box unread. more of these when I write again – meanwhile any matter of moment had better come to me – I will be very happy to receive advice & remembrance from you – Once more farewell

Your obedt and affectionate Servt

Joseph Severn

3 o’clock morg.

I have just looked at him – he is in a beautiful sleep – in look he is very much more himself – I have the greatest hopes of him –
The address and postmark of a hand-written letter.
Fanny Brawne’s letter to Fanny Keats, 26 February 1821, showing the address and postmark. Image courtesy of Keats House, City of London. K/MS/02/049. 
A hand-written letter. The first page of Fanny Brawne’s letter to Fanny Keats of 26 February 1821.
Fanny Brawne’s letter to Fanny Keats, 26 February 1821, page 1.  Image courtesy of Keats House, City of London. K/MS/02/049. 

Read Fanny Brawne’s sixth letter here and eighth letter here.

The Keats200 bicentenary is a celebration of Keats’s life, works and legacy, beginning in December 2018 through to February 2021 and beyond. It is led by three major partners – Keats House, Hampstead, The Keats Foundation and the Keats-Shelley Memorial Association – and is open to all individuals and organisations who have an interest in Keats or poetry. The bicentenary of Keats’s most productive years as a poet, and the period when he found inspiration, friendship and love, is an exciting opportunity to (re)discover and enjoy his works as well as engage with poetry and its ongoing relevance to us all today.

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